19 May 2009

Jefferson Shields

"He became a favorite of Confederate veterans’ groups, attending many reunions and special events after the war. While in attendance at a reunion of the survivors of the Stonewall Brigade in Staunton, "Uncle" Jeff was voted in as a member of the brigade and authorized to wear one of the brigade’s badges. According to Boley, Shields was proud to attend these meetings and display the badges and ribbons the old Confederates gave him; "Uncle Jeff attended all Confederate reunions in many parts of the South, where he was always the recipient of much attention, about which he talked freely. . . . After each reunion he had a fresh supply of medals and when he would proudly open his coat to display them he looked like the Kaiser on parade.”

"It would be easy to speculate that the veterans exploited Shields’s desire for fame [and no doubt many did], but one could also conclude that it was Shields who actually gained the upper hand from this relationship, because his fame “assured him a comfortable income to the end of his earthly pilgrimage.” So comfortable, in fact, that he purchased a lot on what is now Davidson Street in Lexington and built a handsome brick home that still stands. Shields lived there with his wife, the former Mary McNutt, until his death in 1918 at the age of eighty-nine. Today, he and his wife rest in Evergreen Cemetery in Lexington."

From Stonewall Jackson ~ The Black Man's Friend, pages 121-122

I did quite a bit of research (despite the claims of the ill-informed) on both Jefferson Shields and Stonewall Jackson's body servant, Jim Lewis, while writing my book about Jackson and his black Sunday school class. Several scholars have made the mistake of repeating the error that Shields was a "cook for Stonewall Jackson." He was not, though he did cook for members of the Stonewall Brigade and evidently embellished his service somewhat. He did serve in Company H , Rockbridge Rifles, 27th Virginia Infantry Stonewall Brigade, as a personal body servant (slave) of Colonel James Kerr Edmonson of Lexington, Virginia. Edmonson was Commander of the 27th Virginia.

There's much more about both Shields and Lewis in my book - for those who care to actually read it. Suggestion: It's always a good idea to know your facts before you shoot your mouth off. Such conduct only reveals one's *agenda.

*One of the gross errors I see in observing this ongoing debate is the knee-jerk false assumptions many are making regarding the motives of those who may disagree with these same individuals to any extent on the subject of Black Confederates. Rather than debating the facts, they make personal attacks with comments like "shoddy research", etc. They then erect an army of straw men and so muddy the waters it is impossible to engage them in any serious manner. They take any disagreement personally and become rather emotional, illogical, and unprofessional in their comments. These individuals are blinded by their assumptions and their agenda, all the while accusing others of what they themselves are guilty of; it's quite a spectacle to witness.

My own view is that there were nuances and complications regarding the service of these African-Americans. Regardless of one's opinion regarding how these men should be remembered, the biggest mistake anyone could make is painting these men with a broad brush and failing to acknowledge that they were individuals and each one has a unique story.

(Photo compliments of Washington & Lee's Leyburn Library collection.)


cenantua said...

"He did serve in Company H, Rockbridge Rifles, 27th Virginia Infantry Stonewall Brigade, as a personal body servant (slave) of Colonel James Kerr Edmonson of Lexington, Virginia. Edmonson was Commander of the 27th Virginia."

Since Jefferson Shields is not on the muster rolls for Co. H, 27th Va. Inf. or on the overall rolls of the 27th as a regiment, was the affiliation with the company and regiment listed in a pension application?

Incidentally, are there any ties between Jefferson Shields with the white Shields men of Co. H of the same regiment? (James H. Shields and William Thompson Shields).


Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Hello Robert. I'm not sure. I'd need to go back and look at my files and see what I've got. I'll try to do that and let you know what I find. I have a whole file on Black Confederates from Rockbridge County and Lexington - 8 or 9 in total, I believe. I've not had the time to run the trails on each one yet. Some day, I hope . . .

I do recall part of my information on Shields came from some records on Edmonson. Regarding the Shields connection, I don't think so, but again, I would need to look back at my files. I'm fairly certain Shields was owned by Edmonson.

Shields further claimed to be one of Jackson's Sunday school converts and is listed as one of the founding fathers of the Lexington (African) Baptist Church, there on Main Street. I have a history booklet published by the church from some years ago which includes Shields' photograph, along with Deacon Jackson, the free black who owned the barber shop there in Lexington. Many of that church's founding fathers were former students of Jackson's.

Border Ruffian said...

Sure looks like Shields didn't mind being "exploited."

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

He convinced at least some of the CV's that he cooked for Stonewall, was paid to appear at some of these events, and profited from it. Who got the best of who?